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Tomorrow’s Healthcare, between High Tech and Human Empathy

Tomorrow’s Healthcare, between High Tech and Human Empathy

The future of healthcare

From a recent BBC online study, new features of luxury and new markers of wealth were identified in immaterial treasures like the control over one’s time, the possibility to increase one’s education and the access to superior wellness and healthcare. One of the authors of this post reached already a similar conclusion in a book published in 2011, where –on the basis of static experiments conducted by Howard Moskowitz and Alex Gofman in the UK, US, China and Italy, the dimension of Personal Sustainability, pertaining both peace of mind and well-being, was isolated as one of the key references for the redefinition of perceived premium value over the next half decade to decade. Unsurprisingly, what is perceived as premium trickles down into mass luxury first, and is leapfrogged by grassroots digital solutions in shorter and shorter cycles of consumption. Fast forward to 2017 and beyond, with the soaring investment in Insurtech, we see indeed more and more apps offering video based consultations and ability to talk or chat with a doctor 24/7, and getting an electronic prescriptions, by removing from the picture the long queues at healthcare providers which create stress in the patients and pressure on the system. Unsurprisingly, new healthcare players put the consumer at the centre of their proposition, from development to delivery. In a decade when welfare is under pressure worldwide, health is more central than ever to socio-cultural priorities and individual interests. How are industry players reacting to the “perfect storm” determined by digitalization, commodization and deregulation of almost all related services?

Medical Tech and emphatic design

Looking at Medical High Tech, more than a decade ago Philips Ambient Experience Hospitals –integrating interior and product design, lighting and sound design within the medical device, rethinking it as experience enabler– was built through and emphatic design approach. The idea is to elevate, at the centre stage, people with their feelings and fears during all steps of the diagnostic and treatment, by determining insights and designing steps to fight those anxieties and pains. Technology at the service of consumers, not as a performance spec, or as part of “better and improved” features to increase sales of traditional products.  Ambient Experience Hospitals, scaling from flagship suites in the US or the Middle East to more economically viable versions in emerging countries, are heralded worldwide by design heroes like Jos Stufyzand, a Senior Director and veteran of the High Design whose primary occupation is to align the supply chain around people’s future experience of MRI or other medical investigation procedures.


Philips has been leading for decades in the healthcare and well being, by combining business units in all areas of hospital technology, insights in consumer

electronics and category leadership in various domains of Personal Care. From Clinical IT Software services to all sorts of imaging and business modelling innovation, the Dutch corporate giant adopted several experimental steps, leading to sometimes unexpected solutions. For example, 2017 Ambient Experience Hospital suites are the direct grandchildren of Nebula, a visionary concept for seamless, anticipatory, pervasive IT-enabled technology in interiors. Nebula was part of 2001 Noah’s Ark, a design research project directed by Lorna Goulden, nowadays IoT world class authority, with then already senior creative talents like Brechje Vissers or Fiona Rees supervising student teams by the Royal College of Art. This highly imaginative program set the horizon for a long term 2020 vision of Ambient Intelligence, as actuated by uniquely combining sound, vision and lighting in Ambient Experience Hospitals. The line of heritage between Nebula and these healthcare environment represents even more a positive benchmark when compared to more conventional business attempts, like the early 2000’s case of Philips Heartcare Telemedicine Services. In this context, the European giant did not choose for its own visionary innovation but went into partnering with a leading regional enterprise, SHL of Israel, in remote services for the digital monitoring of chronic patients at their homes. The adoption of a solid and proven strategy, with the direct involvement of its creators, and the declination of the Philips identity in a dedicated graphic, colour and aesthetic strategy were not however sufficient to close the gap between rules, regulations and expectations in European countries and the Israeli market, resulting in the short lived existence of the company and the discontinuation of the proposition at that time, and in that form.

 The struggle of Pharma companies

Shifting from Medical High Tech to the world of Pharma, these are few selected words of wisdom that the authors captured from an informal dialog with the marketing leader of a leading European pharmaceutical company:

“The problem with digital transformation lies with the word ‘digital’. When corporate managers associate change with digital, they think about technology and not about people as end users and beneficiaries of services, as and beyond consumers”.

Pharmaceutical companies have been traditionally late in adopting changes pursued by other players in the healthcare sectors. According to a recent research from McKinsey, Corporate Pharma outperforms just the public sector in terms of digital maturity. Moreover, the key issue, is that many of Pharma companies still operate in terms of patients – traditionally a passive agent in the system -whereas HMOs, Insurances, diagnostic and medical system companies have formed more synergetic ecosystems, where they already adopted the concept of “service consumers” with all that entails.

In conclusion

In a nutshell, Pharmaceutical companies should first and foremost look at their patients as consumers, by using ethnographic research to generate insights and future studies to develop foresight. Then – and only then- creative ways of leveraging digital technology might be developed to address the anxiety, the concerns, the fears of their customers. An empathic approach, is definitely not a better commercial approach, but in the long terms is quite definitely a better marketing. And as a more universal conclusion, also looking back at the vision behind Ambient Experience Hospitals and how it came to the world, no merge or acquisition might be stronger, in terms of future soundness, than the pursuit of the true vision stemming from the very heart of the company. The ultimate key is to trigger and facilitate such vision to emerge, always keeping people at its centre.

He is a researcher/lecturer in International Leisure Management at NHTV University of Applied Sciences on international networks, place branding and design. He earned his PhD on the role of design in generating urban futures at the Graduate School, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Tilburg University. He is the founder of Marco Bevolo Consulting. His portfolio includes projects for selected customers in Europe and Asia, including Philips, Municipality of Eindhoven, LightProjects (Leni Schwendinger), Lighting Design Collective (Madrid) and CitiesNext GmbH (Vienna). Until 2009 he was a Director at Philips Design headquarters in the Netherlands, where he was the driving force behind CultureScan, the cultural futures research program, and city.people.light, the urban futures global program. He works primarily in the areas of strategic design, people research and thought leadership. In his extracurricular capacity, in the period 2010-2016, he has been the Principal of Research Urban Futures for Philips Lighting in Europe, Poland, Czech Republic.